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Further education colleges across the West Midlands have joined forces to help get local people who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic back into work. (@Dudley_College)

More than 5,000 adults are set to benefit from free training over the next year in a major new programme, funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority, to help them gain jobs in one of the region’s growth sectors.

In the first initiative of its kind in the country, all 20 colleges across the West Midlands have pooled their expertise to offer a region-wide skills recovery programme called ‘Reignite Your Future’.

Any adult living in the West Midlands can join short sector-based work academy programmes, which usually last up to six weeks. Sectors include construction, digital, health and social care, engineering and logistics, with a guaranteed interview for everyone who completes the course.

All the courses are free of charge, and unemployed residents can take part without losing their benefits.

Those who successfully gain jobs could also be eligible for Workwise travel support of half-price travel on selected West Midlands bus, train and metro travel passes for three months to help them on their way to work, from West Midlands Network.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, who launched the initiative today at a virtual event with all the colleges, hosted by Solihull College & University Centre, said: “Retraining and upskilling are critical to our region’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Tragically as a result of Covid, people are losing their jobs in the region, so training in the skills that employers need is a crucial way to help people get back into employment quickly.

“It’s great that all 20 colleges across the region are working together to help get local people into the jobs of the future. I would urge anyone who has fallen out of work, is worried about their job prospects or just wants to increase their skills, to think about retraining for a new career.

“Our local colleges have been leading the way on training in recent years, particularly in the construction, digital, engineering, warehousing and health and social care sectors. As well as funding the training through our adult education budget, we also work with our partners in local authorities, Jobcentre Plus and the National Careers Service to make sure there are jobs available at the end of the training.”

After losing her job, Iman Khan, aged 28, took up the opportunity to learn new skills as part of a programme with RMF Construction in Solihull. Iman said: “I love construction and being actively involved in working outdoors - especially working with machinery. In these difficult times, I wanted to gain more training and this programme has allowed me to pursue my passion. They have an incredible team of trainers and the facilities are absolutely amazing. I want to be a good influence and role model to my daughter and any women looking to get into construction.” Iman will soon start a new job as a plant operative/groundworker.

Each sector-based work academy programme is supported by one or more employers looking to recruit future staff. Adults benefit from employment training at college, a work placement and a guaranteed job interview at the end of the programme.

Stuart Fowkes, aged 31, from Cradley Heath, a track operative for the Midland Metro Alliance (MMA), is one of the first cohort of an award-winning apprenticeship scheme in light rail that the MMA helped to create. His studies include light rail construction skills, traffic management, civil engineering and customer service, among other key learning areas. Before beginning the Level 2 apprenticeship, Stuart, who had been unemployed, got his start in the construction industry with a place on a sector-based work academy hosted by the Midland Metro Alliance and further education colleges around the region.

Speaking about his learning, Stuart said:

“It’s great that I’m working towards a qualification and learning lots of different aspects of the work needed to build a tramway, which will help me to develop a career in this sector.”

Rose Rees, head of engagement and skills at Midland Metro Alliance, said:

“Midland Metro Alliance (MMA) has collaborated with further education colleges across the West Midlands on sector-based work academy programmes to recruit and train unemployed local people for a range of opportunities at MMA. Through these academies we are able to offer candidates a skills development programme and assess their suitability for roles, allowing us to recruit with confidence from participants at the end of their programme, creating a skilled workforce for our business.

“Programmes like these are a brilliant way for organisations to recruit adults from diverse backgrounds into key roles often providing individuals with an opportunity to change their lives through sustained employment.”

Also available for local people through ‘Reignite Your Future’ are part-time technical training programmes, which support residents wishing to upskill or change career direction. They provide adults with the technical skills needed to gain employment in the sectors where the West Midlands anticipates a growth in job opportunities, such as digital industries, construction and health and life sciences.

Ro Hands, Managing Director at LearnPlay Foundation said:

 “As a growing provider of services for the digital creative industries, we urge adults to make use of the opportunity to participate in free Technical Training Programmes in their local college. IT upskilling is one of the driving agendas for our business in the coming year.  We look forward to providing work placements, sharing best practice and helping to put more people on a trajectory towards exciting and fulfilling careers.”

Lowell Williams, Chair of Colleges West Midlands, said:

“It’s great to see all West Midlands further education colleges coming together to launch this major initiative for adults. We now have a comprehensive skills offer for adults across the region that focuses on employment as the end goal. All they need to do is contact their local college and support is on hand.”

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